Pre-natal Clinic

Pre Natal Clinic_02Julianne and I recently spent a morning at the pre-natal clinic at Macha hospital. Once a month, the hospital holds a clinic for expectant mothers and mothers with young children. One of the benefits of Julianne being pregnant (aside from, you know, the creation of a new human life) is that it is allowing us to experience the care of this hospital that is at the centre of our community here, and without having to get malaria or break an arm. Everyone we have interacted with at the hospital has been absolutely wonderful, and the care has been excellent.

The clinic was an interesting experience. Couples who are expecting a baby are required to attend a session as part of their registration with the hospital. Since the class is normally conducted in Tonga, the local language, we were treated to a private version conducted for us in English by one of the nurses.

He was professional and thorough, taking us through topics such as nutrition for pregnant women, what to expect during the birthing process, and how to monitor your baby’s health and growth after leaving the hospital. He did laugh a little as he took us through some of the material, which I think he was required to cover but which he knew probably would not apply to this couple from Canada. I learned, for instance, that I should give Julianne a break from working in the fields during her pregnancy. I have dutifully complied with this instruction.

One of the standard pPre Natal Clinic_01arts of the registration is for both parents to take an HIV test; the test is not a requirement but is strongly encouraged. The HIV pandemic has hit Zambia hard, with and adult prevalance rate of nearly 22% at its peak. And while education and prevention efforts of the last couple decades have helped bring the rate down, the statistics say that even today nearly one in eight adult Zambians carries the virus. The testing of expectant mothers is particularly important, because the virus can be passed on to infants. There are ways to prevent this, or at least reduce the risk, but only if the mother’s status is known.

Julianne and I were both tested as part of our registration with the hospital. After filling out the consent form (the first form I have completed in my life where I have been asked to indicated how many spouses I have), I had my finger pricked to get a small amount of blood. For Julianne, since her body has a slightly more central role to play than mine in the whole pregnancy thing, a few more tests were required. After these were done, we were told we would have our HIV results in a matter of minutes.

Getting the actual results was an interesting experience. The nurse we had been working with had a certain flair for the dramatic, so he built up the suspense a little. He put the papers face down on the table.

“I have your results here. But first, let’s talk a little. How would you feel if you were negative?”


“Good. And how would you feel if you were positive.”



Long pause.

“Do you know that at this hospital we have a very good program of medicines for supporting those who are positive?”

“Yes, I did know that.”

“And if you are positive, will you take advantage of that program?”

“Well, yes, I suppose would.”

Now, I am pretty aware of the behaviours that can put you at risk for HIV. And I am pretty aware that the frequency with which I engage in those behaviours puts me in a pretty safe spot in terms of the likelihood of getting HIV. But if this guy kept asking me any more questions, I think I might have started to worry that I might be seeing a “positive” on that page.

At any rate, the suspense was about to end. He flipped the results over, and with a deft cross-handed manoeuvre he put my results down in front of Julianne, and her results down in front of me.

Both negative. Which was not a surprise. What was a surprise was this you-see-hers, she-sees-yours approach to sharing them. It doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing that would happen in our privacy-conscious culture in Canada. But as I thought about it more, it made a lot of sense. In a culture where women do not always have the say and the rights that we take for granted in Canada, this gives a pregnant mother a clear view of her partner’s status. It gives her information she might not get otherwise — information that may help her protect herself and her baby.

I am thankful for Macha hospital. I am thankful for the role it plays in the community here. And I am thankful that, while we are getting ready for this new little life to join our family, we get to experience first hand what a wonderful place it really is.

Starting School

During our first few weeks in Zambia, the boys’ playtime often centred around the airpline rides they had taken to get here. My days were peppered with comments like “Daddy, please turn off your computer…we will be taking off soon“, or “Would you like the chicken or the pasta?” Airplane rides are a big deal in a four-year-old’s life, so it’s no surprise they made an impression.

The boys still enjoy playing airplane. But recently another theme has started to pop up. More and more we can see the routines from their school day showing up in their games. They will take turns pretending to be Ms Mwiinga, their new teacher, while the other plays the student. And the new songs they are learning are now a regular part of our soundtrack. As I write this, the boys are in their rooms for quiet time, and I can hear Caleb singing songs from morning chapel. “Ho-ho-ho-hosanna,” he sings, then with each verse calls out instructions to an imaginary audience. “Just the girls!” or “All together now!”

One of the big questions for us when we arrived here was how the boys would do in their new school. They loved kindergarten back in Canada, but there is a lot for them to adjust to here — new routines, new sights and smells, accents that can be hard to understand, the energy-sapping heat. But, in spite of a few anxious mornings when they were hesitant to leave mom and dad, they have done incredibly well. By the time we pick them up from school (which consists of a thirty second walk from our front door), the nervousness of the morning is forgotten and they are chattering away about the events of the day.

Today marks the end of our first full week living at MICS, and the boys’ first full week of school. There is still some more settling in to do, for us as well as the boys. For them, there are names to learn, friendships to form, and Tonga words to decipher. For us, there are still some things to unpack, still some shelves to build to put those things on, still some quirks to figure out on a stove where each burner has its own unique personality. But every day we take another step towards feeling settled. It has been a good week. And this place is starting to feel like home.

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Walking to school with Mom.

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Waiting for the bell to ring.

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Meeting some new friends.

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Checking out the new guy’s hair.

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Waiting for school to start.


Washed Out

We rounded the corner on the way back from Macha to Choma this afternoon to find the bridge had been washed out by today’s heavy rains. We spent forty minutes waiting for the waters to subside (they didn’t) and watching to see if other vehicles were able to cross successfully (they were). During that time we saw crossings by pedestrians and cyclists, vans and motorcycles, and even one very reluctant pig. We eventually decided to go for it. After a few anxious moments and some expert driving from Jamie, we were safely on the other side. Here are some photos of the adventure…







Next Stop…Choma

It has been a good week. Last Saturday we arrived in Lusaka in the pouring rain and, with a few breaks to tend to the needs of sleep-deprived children, managed to load our luggage onto a flatbed truck and make it to the guest house where we were staying. Seven days later, the jet lag is gone, the luggage has dried out, and everyone is rested and ready for the next leg of the journey.

It was not the plan to spend a full week here. But with some details still to work out about our housing at MICS, and some trusted friends advising us not to travel during the days surrounding Zambia’s recent national election, it made sense to extend our stay a little.

It has been a great place to transition to life in Zambia — a “soft landing” as one guest here put it. There is a swimming pool at the guest house, a luxury we certainly won’t have in Macha. The boys have been able to watch airplanes take off and land at the nearby airstrip. And none of us is complaining about taps that always seem to have water in them, power that is (almost) always on, and reliable and relatively fast wifi.

But, for all that, we are ready to move on. Today we make the five hour trip to Choma, which is the nearest town to where we will eventually live, and which will be our base for the next week or more. Julianne and I were on this road in 2005, and back then it was in brutal shape, with potholes that would swallow your pickup truck in a single gulp. But these days the road is paved the whole way, and the drive should be relatively smooth. The next time you hear from us, we will be at Nahumba guest house in Choma, and one step closer to our eventual home in Macha. Until then…

Look out Zambia…here we come


Photo by Cheryl Oudshoorn

Well, the countdown is on.  After months of preparation, we are just over four weeks away from getting on a plane and heading off to Zambia.  I have officiallly wrapped up my work at Loblaw, and now spend my days packing up our house to get ready for the big move.  Julianne has been working hard to prepare, among other things, clothing in 3 years worth of sizes for two growing boys.  She is now getting in a few final days of supply teaching and enjoying a brief season where Daddy gets to make the boys’ lunches and get them bundled up for school every day.

We want to say a big thank you to all of you for the support you have given to help us get to this point.  You have shared words of encouragement, donated money, offered storage space, and provided practical support in countless other ways.  We couldn’t have done it without you.

This blog is the place to follow along with our family as we serve at Macha International Christian School (MICS).  We will add a few updates on our preparations over the next month, and then begin to post more frequently once we actually land in Zambia in the middle of January.  If you want to be notified of new posts by email, scroll to the bottom of this page and click the “Follow” button.  Or just add us to your favourite news reader.

Thanks for reading.  Lots more to come…